Opinion |

There Won't Be Peace Until Israel Accepts Responsibility for the Nakba

Peace is not going to come before Israelis know about and understand how it all began.

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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A Palestinian boy shouts slogans as others wave flags after Friday prayers during a protest to mark Nakba day near the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem's Old City, May 15, 2015.
A Palestinian boy shouts slogans as others wave flags after Friday prayers during a protest to mark Nakba day near the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem's Old City, May 15, 2015.Credit: Reuters
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

The government of Israel confirms once again: War crimes were committed in 1947-1948; there were acts of slaughter, there was expulsion, there was ethnic cleansing – there was a Nakba, a Catastrophe as the Palestinians call their experience in those years. How do we know?

The government is about to extend the confidentiality of one of the major files in the Israel Defense Forces Archive that deals with the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem. Sixty-eight years have gone by and Israel is concealing the archival truth from itself – could there be any clearer proof that it has something to hide? A senior official explained to Haaretz diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid (“Panel led by Shaked likely to keep ‘Nakba file’ in IDF archive sealed,” September 20): “When peace comes, it will be possible to open those materials to public viewing.”

Peace is not going to come before the Israelis know about and understand how it all began. Peace is not going to come before Israel accepts responsibility, apologizes and compensates. There is no peace without this. Perhaps there could be truth and reconciliation commissions like in South Africa, or a bended knee and reparations like in Germany. This could be the expression of an apology to the Palestinian people, partial return and partial compensation for the property stolen in 1948 and ever since. Just not denial and shirking of responsibility.

Peace is not going to be prevented because the Palestinians are insisting on the right of return. It will be prevented mainly because Israel is not prepared to internalize the historical starting point: A people without a country came to a country with a people, and that people experienced a terrible tragedy that continues to this day.

That people does not forget. And Israel will not be able to make them forget. Israel despises Holocaust deniers – and rightly so. In many countries it is a crime. In Israel people are angry at Poland, which has prohibited by law mention of its part in the eradication of its Jews. Austria, which has never properly confronted its past, is also deserving of condemnation.

A Palestinian wearing a mask holds a cut-out of a key during a rally ahead of the Nakba day in the West Bank city of Bethlehem May 14, 2015. Credit: Reuters

And has Israel confronted its past? Never. The Jewish world demands compensation for the property it left behind in Eastern Europe and the Arab countries. Jews are allowed to return to Jewish property in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Confronting our past is just not something we do. Different laws apply to us, laws of the chosen people and the double standard. From the hump on our back – the one that is hidden in archives and rises high from every refugee camp and ruined village – we look away.

It is possible in advance to dispense with the ire at the comparison to the Holocaust: There is no comparison. But there are national disasters that aren’t a holocaust and nevertheless are disasters. A terrible disaster happened to the Palestinian people and Israel denies that disaster and its responsibility for it. Its extent is far from that of the Holocaust, but it is a terrible disaster. The denials can be compared: Nakba denial beats denial of the Holocaust.

What happened to the Palestinian people in 1948 and continued after the establishment of the state, cannot be repressed forever. If Israel is certain it is right, open the archives and prove it. Indeed, one of the documents Israel is concealing is a study David Ben-Gurion commissioned aimed at proving that the Arabs fled. If everything was moral, just and legal, why aren’t they publishing it?

It is enough to look at the photograph that accompanied the report in Haaretz in Hebrew to refute the Zionist propaganda: Two Arabs push a cart filled with bits of possessions, rugs and household goods, an old man with a cane lags behind them and three Haganah men accompany them with threatening rifles. Haifa, May 12, 1948. This is the appearance of the “voluntary flight” of which the Arabs are guilty of having chosen. And this of course is not the most shocking picture of the expulsion.

The guilt lies heavy. It will not ease. For the expulsion, and even more so for having prevented a return to the homes when the fighting ceased. Absolute justice will not prevail here and the blame lies not only on Israel’s shoulders. But the denial must stop. Convinced of our rightness and strong in our state, the time has come to gaze squarely at the truth and come to the obvious conclusion: Israel overloaded the cauldron of suffering it causes the Palestinian people a long time ago. A long time ago.

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